Simmering in US Over Regulation of Internet
Washington, VOA News
A heated debate is shaping up in Washington about a concept some activists
are calling Internet network neutrality, known more popularly as net
neutrality. At issue are calls for the U.S. government to regulate
the Internet, and, in effect, opponents say, determine which companies
get bigger shares of the profits.
Net neutrality refers to the idea that network operators must treat
all Internet content equally. In its specifics, though, the debate
is also an argument over money.
Companies that provide Internet content, like Yahoo or Google, want
the U.S. government to prohibit high-speed Internet broadband providers,
like Verizon or Comcast, from charging more to guarantee service quality
and access to all Web sites.
Proponents of net neutrality legal protections include Google's Vinton
Cerf, a computer engineer, who helped create the World Wide Web decades
"I am deeply, deeply troubled by the current situation, in which
we may lose the openness of the Internet," said Mr. Cerf.
In testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Cerf accused broadband
providers of taking advantage of their market power to try to control
public access to Web sites.
"They [broadband companies] intend to charge providers of Internet
service doubly, that is to say, they charge consumers for access to
the broadband network, and they advertise it as broadband access,
and then turn around and say, 'well you won't really have access to
all of the 400 million servers on the Internet, unless some of those
servers have paid us to carry their traffic over your broadband access,"
Opponents of that argument accuse groups in the pro-net neutrality
camp of trying to protect their profits.
David Cohen, of Comcast Corporation, the largest U.S. provider of
cable, entertainment and communications products and services, testified
that computer software company Microsoft sounded alarm bells in 2002
over perceived threats to net neutrality, but that the threats never
materialized. Instead, he says, during that time, Web content providers
made huge sums of money.
"From the time of the first net neutrality scare, Microsoft's
annual revenues have grown by over $10 billion per year. Meanwhile,
the market cap of Google has soared from nothing, to approximately
$117 billion. Everyone should have these kinds of problems,"
said Mr .Cohen.
Cohen said he feels legislation mandating net neutrality, as proposed
by some lawmakers, is not necessary, because his company has no plans
to take any actions that would threaten it. He added that he believes
these regulations would also discourage his company from investing
to develop new technology.
"Our position is, there is no way to predict what our business
model and what the potential innovations on the Internet will be a
year from now, three years from now, five years from now," he
said. "And that the risks of regulating the Internet to protect
against a hypothetical harm, of drying up investment and of drying
up innovation, are too great a price to pay. Let's allow this market
This position was echoed by Senate Judiciary Committee member Senator
Sam Brownback, who said, at this point, net neutrality regulation
would only be addressing hypothetical problems.
"I think, this is a legislation in search of a problem,"
said Senator Brownback. "Things have been phenomenally successful,
in terms of expanding of opportunity on the Internet. And it continues
to happen and I would hope we wouldn't go in with a regulatory arm
Senator Olympia Snowe, who co-sponsored one net-neutrality bill, says
its purpose is to preempt problems.
"Once problems develop, then ultimately it's going to be very
hard to put the genie back in the bottle," she said. "And
that's the issue here. We're trying to preserve the status quo, the
Internet as consumers know it today, where 73 percent of adults utilize
The U.S. House of Representatives earlier this month passed telecommunications
legislation that did not include the provisions net neutrality advocates
had called for. The issue has now moved over to the Senate, which
is scheduled to begin considering and voting on any amendments to
a broader communications reform bill June 20.
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